Archive for the ‘Publication News’ Category

Isao Takahata of Studio Ghibli Dies

By Sako Ikegami, Kobe

Isao Takahata, co-founder of Japan’s most famous animation company, Studio Ghibli, and director of the poignant film Grave of the Fireflies, passed away last week on April 5, 2018, at the age of 82. Unlike his famous partner, Hayao Miyazawa, Takahata’s works were not as flamboyantly cinematic, yet they were no less memorable or moving, addressing deeply personal themes related to childhood—its struggles and its tender beauty—often reflected upon in retrospect.

Image from Grave of the Fireflies (Toho/The Atlantic)

Grave of the Fireflies is based on a short story by Akiyuki Nosaka (1930-2015), based in turn on the author’s experience of the World War II bombings in Kobe. Takahata survived a similar bombing at the age of nine in neighboring Okayama prefecture, where he spent his childhood, and drew upon his experience in creating the movie.

Most recently, Takahata’s film The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, based on Taketori monogatari, an ancient fairytale written during the Heian era (794-1185) and popularized as a children’s story, was nominated for an Academy Award in 2015.

Participants in SCBWI Japan Translation Day 2016 translated excerpts of Grave of the Fireflies for a workshop with Ginny Tapley Takemori, translator of Nosaka’s The Whale that Fell in Love with a SubmarineGrave of the Fireflies is forthcoming in English translation from Pushkin Press.

Online obituaries for Isao Takahata: NPRIGNSlate, The Atlantic.

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An Unexpected Music: The Beast Player

Review by Alexander O. Smith, Kamakura

Fans of Nahoko Uehashi have had a long wait for another book in English translation from the internationally acclaimed fantasy author since the publication of the second volume of the Moribito series in 2009. The Beast Player is not a continuation of that, but the first English entry in an entirely new story that already spans four volumes in Japanese. Available as of March 1st from Pushkin Press, The Beast Player collects the first two volumes of the series with translation into English courtesy of Cathy Hirano, who also translated the Moribito books.

Right: Nahoko Uehashi (Goodreads)

The Beast Player follows the story of Elin, the green-eyed daughter of a “beast doctor” who looks after the Toda—massive, scaled creatures ridden into battle by the Toda warriors. Elin and her mother’s eyes mark them as members of a secretive tribe of wanderers called the Ahlyo, though her mother renounced her tribal affiliations to live amongst the Toda Stewards.

In the first half of the book, we learn how Elin comes to leave her home and settle into a new life under the care of Joeun, a lapsed academic who has taken up beekeeping. We are also introduced to some of the other major players in the world: the Yojeh, an empress who acts as the political and spiritual leader of the land, and the Aluhan, a duke who commands armies faithful to the Yojeh to protect their borders. The second half follows Elin as she rises through the ranks of students at Kazalumu, a sanctuary where they care for Royal Beasts—fantastical creatures that look something like giant wolves with wings.

Along the way, we occasionally step into the viewpoint of other characters, such as Ialu, one of a cohort of bodyguards who serve the Yojeh for life (a life often cut short by an assassin’s arrow—not all is well in the Yojeh’s realm), and Esalu, the headmistress at the sanctuary. Those with difficulty keeping the large cast of characters straight will be happy to hear there is a list at the beginning of the book that includes a family tree for the Yojeh’s royal family.

Uehashi’s story is an intriguing blend of many elements that will be familiar to fans of contemporary western fantasy—a strong female lead, a school for gifted students, the challenges of taming fantastical creatures—and other details that will feel more specifically Japanese, like meals of steamed rice and miso, and an emperor considered by many of her subjects to be divine.

One of the cornerstones of fantasy is worldbuilding, and here The Beast Player does not disappoint. Perhaps taking cues from her earlier work as an anthropologist, Uehashi lays out the tribal affiliations and politics of her world with clarity and depth. Class plays a large role in the story as well, with details such as dress and occupation following the internal logic of a carefully crafted fictional society. This enables the main narrative thread following Elin’s attempts at inter-species communication with the Royal Beasts via playing a hand-made harp to function as a kind of allegory for communication across barriers of class and race.

Language is an aspect of fantasy worldbuilding that can either be treated as an afterthought or, as is the case in Tolkien’s Middle Earth, an integral part of the story. In The Beast Player, we learn early on that the name for Elin’s people, the Ahlyo, is a bastardization of their true name, “Ao-Loh,” meaning “Guardians of the Oath.” The oath, we are told, was sworn by their people to never repeat a terrible mistake made long in the past. This is the first glimpse we are given of a secret history that is frequently hinted at throughout the story, the knowledge of which ultimately comes to play a role in informing our heroine’s actions.

Somewhat challenging is the terminology in the book. In the opening, many aspects of caring for the Toda are described with capitalized words: the Ponds, the Chambers, the Law. There are also words in an indeterminate language, such as the tokujisui medicine administered to the Toda, and political terms—the Chief Steward, the Aluhan—that can be a bit confusing at first. Here again, I turned back to the list of characters at the beginning to keep everything straight.

Thankfully, the prose is more than strong enough to carry the reader through those initial speed bumps. Hirano is a gifted stylist, and the combination of her deft word choice with Uehashi’s evocative images keeps the story flowing while bringing us moments of lyrical beauty.

In a market glutted with streamlined page-turners that take more hints from Hollywood than the classics of fantasy, The Beast Player, with its leisurely paced, meandering storytelling, can feel at times like a throwback. And yet, opening a doorway to different takes on familiar genres is exactly the aim of Pushkin Children’s Books. Given the alternative of shelves laden with dystopian Hunger Games clones I’m glad that Pushkin and Hirano opened that door and let The Beast Player, like its titular character, make an unexpected music of its own.

Right: Cathy Hirano (Skye Hohmann for BookBlast®)

Novel by Andersen Laureate to Launch in English

By Avery Fischer Udagawa, Bangkok

Happy Year of the Dog! SCBWI Japan translator member Cathy Hirano has translated The Beast Player by Nahoko Uehashi, winner of the international Hans Christian Andersen Award for Writing (“little Nobel”) in 2014. This novel will launch in English in March 2018 in the UK, and subsequently in the US.

UK publisher Pushkin Children’s describes The Beast Player as a fantasy novel for ages 10 and up, in which heroine Elin must prevent beloved beasts from being used as tools of war.

Uehashi’s prior publications in English are the YA novels Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit and Moribito II: Guardian of the Darkness, which won the Batchelder Award and a Batchelder Honor, respectively, in the US. A resource list about the Moribito books, Uehashi, and Hirano appears hereThe Beast Player is available for preorder globally in paperback and ebook.

 

World Kid Lit Month Review: It Might Be An Apple by Shinsuke Yoshitake

By Andrew Wong, Tokyo

Shinsuke Yoshitake’s witty and amusing picture books have enjoyed a growing following since his debut title Ringo kamoshirenaiIt Might Be An Apple—appeared in Japan in 2013. Since clinching the Art Award at the 61st Sankei Juvenile Literature Publishing Culture Awards in 2014, this title has also been published in Chinese, Dutch, French, Korean, Swedish, and English (by Thames & Hudson, 2015).

Left: UK edition of It Might Be An Apple. Right: Shinsuke Yoshitake (Belio.com).

In It Might Be An Apple, Yoshitake turns an entirely mundane non-event on its head: A boy comes home to find an apple sitting on the table. His imagination jumpstarts a mish-mash of stories and plots, about what the apple might contain inside, what it might actually be, or what it could have been and could turn into. (Click on the cover above to see illustrations.) Taking things a step further, the boy wonders if the apple has desires, wishes and feelings, and whether it has a family.

Driven by an imagination that is simply inspired, the boy ponders how the apple ended up on the table, where it might have been before that, and where it might be planning to go. A bit of fear takes hold when the boy suspects that the “apple” was just waiting for a chance to take the boy’s own place in the world, or was deviously put there as kid-bait.

Eventually, hunger pangs rein in the boy’s want-away thoughts, and he gives the apple a mighty bite. He reunites with reality and the apple as it is.

The English translation stays close to the spirit of Yoshitake’s quirky original, retaining the sense of humor while offering a few subtle variations. The fun of shaping the rooms of an apple-house (by eating through its walls) is expressed by a pitch for the best house ever, complete with edible interior! The culture gap of the distant-yet-familiar Japanese ancestor is bridged by a grandma in apple disguise. Finally, a spread with all apple-kinds lined up according to a Japanese kana table, in the original, sports creative renaming in English based on the apples’ shapes and appearances.

Both the original and the translation let us journey into the world of imagination, and show us the plenitude of stories our minds can conjure at a whim.

 

 

Other English translations of Yoshitake’s work include What Happens Next? and Can I Build Another Me? (Thames & Hudson) as well as Still Stuck (Abrams), for which the original Mo nugenai (Bronze Publishing, 2015) won a Special Mention at the 2017 Bologna Children’s Book Fair Bologna Ragazzi Awards. Still Stuck is released in the US today. Happy World Kid Lit Month!

Andrew Wong joined the SCBWI Japan Translation Group listserv in 2015, when in search of a community focused on translated books for children. A business translator by trade, he finds time to introduce Japanese picture books and stories that speak to him on his blog, in hopes that they will one day find a worldwide audience.

Kenji Miyazawa’s Poem of Strength, Now a Bilingual Picture Book

By Andrew Wong, Tokyo

Enduring poetry lends itself to being read and reread over time, as it becomes colored by the issues of the day. The poem Ame ni mo makezu by Kenji Miyazawa (1896-1933) heartened many people after the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami, which struck Miyazawa’s home region of Tohoku six years ago this month.

Miyazawa’s poem has since come out in a bilingual picture book edition: Rain Won’t. Translated by poet Arthur Binard and illustrated by Oscar-nominated animator Koji Yamamura, Rain Won’t first presents the text in its original vein and then reframes it in contemporary context, in an afterword.

Translated in first-person verse, this rendering immediately compels the reader to identify with the poet’s aspirations, at times adding sentiments implied in the original, at others preferring subtlety over wordy literalism. If Binard’s text stays true to the determined tone of the original, then Yamamura’s illustrations flesh out images of farmland and nature in Tohoku’s Iwate prefecture, which Miyazawa would have known so well.

On the cover is Mt. Iwate in the distance, and readers will just about make out a person walking past some stalks of rice in the rain toward paddies in the distance. Hidden in plain sight are other living creatures—a frog, a bee, a grasshopper. Together they frame the poem in its intended setting. The person remains at a distance in the book, acting as a guide or a projection of the poet’s aspirations, only coming at the end to stand close to the reader.


Translator Arthur Binard (photo by Kelia Li), animator-illustrator Koji Yamamura (profile photo). 


 

This textual and visual presentation is followed by Binard’s afterword, an interpretation of the poem post-March 11. It reframes and explains how the poem should serve not only as a source of strength, but also as a reminder and a rallying cry.

The book acknowledges other English translations of Ame ni mo makezu. Among them is “Strong in the Rain,” which accompanied actor Ken Watanabe’s reading of the piece on YouTube just four days after the earthquake (video from kizuna311.com), and “Unbeaten by Rain” which was read on April 11, 2011, in the interfaith service “A Prayer for Japan” at Washington National Cathedral (begins at 29:22 in video from cathedral.org).

Published in 2013 on the day the original poem is dated—November 3—Rain Won’t is available from Japan in the Japanese/English bilingual edition, and in Chinese and Korean editions.

Publishers Weekly Features Poet Misuzu Kaneko

By Deborah Iwabuchi, Maebashi, Japan

Are You an Echo: The Lost Poetry of Misuzu Kaneko has been featured by Publishers WeeklyIf you are still trying to decide whether to reserve a copy of this picture book from Chin Music Press, due out in late September, be sure to read this in-depth introduction and have a look at a few of the beautiful illustrations. Poetry by Misuzu Kaneko, text and translation by David Jacobson, Sally Ito, and Michiko Tsuboi. Illustrations by Toshikado Hajiri.

Screen Shot 2016-07-25 at 8.06.03

 

 

 

AFCC 2016 (Part 1): Japanese-English Bilingual Picture Book Launched in Singapore

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At Asian Festival of Children’s Content 2016 in Singapore, Japan featured as Country of Focus. Events included a launch for the picture book Monster Day on Tabletop Hill (above right), written by Japanese author Akiko Sueyoshi*, translated by Cathy Hirano, and illustrated by David Liew. AFCC Publications: ISBN 978-9810993542. Photo by Kua Chee Siong/The Straits Times.

By Malavika Nataraj, Singapore

Monster Day on Tabletop Hill coverWhen an award-winning author, translator and illustrator all come together to create a book, the result can be nothing but special. That’s the first thought that comes to mind while reading Monster Day on Tabletop Hill. Author Akiko Sueyoshi’s latest work, in collaboration with acclaimed translator Cathy Hirano and sculptor-turned-illustrator David Liew, is a lively story about Forky, the little fork boy who lives in a mug-cup shaped house.

Forky is out playing in Sugar Cube Park on Monster Day, when he hears bells clanging, announcing the arrival of the guardians of clean, Grandpa Sweep-Sweep and Granny Wipe-Wipe, who sweep-sweep and wipe-wipe at everything that’s in their path, determined to get Tabletop Hill as clean as can be. It’s a particularly distressing day for carelessly wandering creatures and monsters, who may well be swept away into nothingness, never to return.

While dodging this bustling pair, Forky chances upon a glowing pumpkin in the middle of a field. And out of this pumpkin house comes a delightfully motley crew: little biscuit bats, musical chocolate skeletons and . . . the four Marshomon.

Monsters though they are, Forky isn’t afraid of the Marshomon at all, joining in their dancing and inviting them all out to play in Sugar Cube Park, where they shoot at lollipops till scrumptious ice-cream and juices ooze out.

Their wonderful adventure must end, however, when the ominous bells clang once again and the doors to Pumpkin House begin to close. A pacey and engaging read, Forky’s adventure will keep little readers in thrall from beginning to end.

Monster Day on Tabletop Hill spread 1Illustration © David Liew

This book is one more feather in the cap of award-winning children’s author Akiko Sueyoshi, who is no stranger to picture books. Her most popular story, the long-selling Mori no Kakurenbō (Hide-and-Seek in the Forest), was first published in 1978. Since then, she has won several awards for her work, including the Shogakukan Children’s Publication Culture Award in 1999 for Amefuribana Saita (When the Rainflowers Bloomed) and two Newcomer Prizes for Hoshi ni kaetta shōjo (The Girl Who Returned to the Star), as well as the Noma Award for Children’s Literature for Mama no kīroi kozō (Mummy’s Little Yellow Elephant).

Monster on Tabletop Hill is written in prose, in Sueyoshi’s typically concise style and filled with little details that set the mood of the story. The work of Cathy Hirano, translator of the Moribito series with two Batcheldor Awards under her belt, means that both English and Japanese audiences can enjoy this bilingual picture book in the best possible way. Hirano’s contribution to Sueyoshi’s story is subtle but evident; the translation is simple and energetic, faithful to the mood and setting of the original Japanese text.

Monster Day on Tabletop Hill spread 2Illustration © David Liew

Bright and quirky illustrations by David Liew—known to fans as Wolfe, the illustrator of the Ellie Belly series written by Eliza Teoh—bring this delightful little story entirely to life. The expressions on Forky’s face, the chocolate skeletons with their instruments and a grinning pumpkin house all add significant depth to the text.

The whole story with its joyful illustrations, written simply but so engagingly, carries with it an air of a fun celebration, where monsters with swirling scarves dance to the beat of drums and lost hats can be the beginning of a friendship. Sadly, the monsters must soon return to their pumpkin lair and we are forced to say goodbye to little Forky. His romp with the Marshomon and the other monsters is over far too soon.

Malavika Nataraj is the author of Suraya’s Gift: The Story Catcher Children and is an aspiring Japanese-to-English translator.

Akiko-Sueyoshi- AFCC 2013*Editors’ note: It is with great sadness that we report the death of Akiko Sueyoshi (1942–2016), the author of Monster Day on Tabletop Hill. Ms. Sueyoshi passed away due to cancer on May 28, 2016, two days after her final picture book was launched at AFCC. We understand that she was able to view the finished book before her death. News of her passing in the Asahi Shimbun newspaper in Japanese is here. A description of her life and works in English is here. Her photo at left appears on the website of AFCC, where she spoke in 2013. After a full life in which she gladdened the hearts of countless children, may she rest in peace.